Thursday, 16 April 2009

Hollywood Babble On & On #270: Is Smart Dead, Or Is Smart Just Not Smart Enough?

(but since you're probably not going to see the movie, read away)

According to an LA Times article (h/t Hollywood Elsewhere) the film State of Play will most likely tank at the box office, inspiring the author of the article to declare that "smart" thrillers or "smart" films in general are dead, most likely due to the gradual dumbing of the American audience.

I beg to differ.

I think the reason like State of Play fail is because it's hard to be a thriller when you're more predictable than the tides.

I had only been 5 seconds into the commercial for State of Play before I figured out that the whole conspiracy somehow involved a sinister defense contractor.

Why did I think that?

Because it's almost always a sinister defense contractor.

If not, it's a CIA/FBI cabal.

Or it's the military.

Or it's some other corporate baddy up to no good. (pharmaceutical and chemical companies are popular choices.)

Or it's all of the above enacting some sinister conspiracy cooked up during a golf foursome at the Whitehaven Country Club.

Back in the 1970s which saw the rise of the "smart" political thriller having corporations and intelligence agencies as the bad guy was new, novel, and relevant to the general distrust and ennui in the aftermath of the political assassinations of the 1960s, and Watergate in the 1970s. (Which itself was the subject of All The President's Men.)

But that was almost 40 years and several hundred political thrillers ago.

What was once new, novel, and relevant, has become cliche, and people can see these "shocking twists" coming a mile away, and are less likely to drop $10 for a mystery where they can guess the ending from the commercial.

And it's not just thrillers. The comedy/romance/ caper film Duplicity pretty much ended its run before the first screening was finished. Folks wailed and bemoaned its failure, and blamed the dumb audience for being too dumb to know that they're too dumb to know what's good for their dumb asses. I think it had more to do with the ads remarking that it was made by the same guy who made Michael Clayton, with George Clooney. Clayton was another "smart" movie with a predictable bad guy (a big corporation) and the premise that a man can fake his death, in the age of CSI, by tossing his personal effects into a burning car. That's not particularly smart, and the audience knows that.

So I guess the lesson of this little rant is that smart movies aren't dead, they just aren't as smart as the makers think they are.

And let me take a moment to shill the book I'm in...

You can't blame me for trying, I'm only getting royalties on this thing.

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